Focus is as elusive as a ghost and slippery as a sturgeon, here one minute and gone the next. We need a high level of focus to do our best work, but emails, cell phones, and the repo man all beg for our attention like neglected children.
Here are sixteen ways to increase focus, attention, and mindfulness.
1. Eliminate Distractions The internet, television, cell phones, other people. All these things eat away at our attention and focus. The closer you can come to monk-like isolation, the easier you’ll find focus. If that’s impossible, headphones with good music are a viable alternative.
2. Turn off the Inner Monologue If your inner monologue is hurting and not helping, if your mind is like a wild monkey jumping all over the place, you need to take steps to quiet it. Daily journaling will help you increase your focus by reducing excessive mental chatter.
3. Set a Schedule If you have a set time to do some activity every day, you’ll have an easier time settling in that time and blocking out all else. The benefit of having a clear finish time will make it easier to say ‘I’ll attend to [insert distraction here] after my time is up.”
4. Care About Your Task Doing meaningless work is a recipe for disaster. If you have something you really don’t want care about but have to do anyway, take the carrot and stick approach. Promise yourself a steak dinner or a stiff drink when you finish.
5. Clear Your Head Our mind likes to hold onto stuff, all in the hopes we’ll remember to do something about it. By writing things down, you’re telling your brain it can relax and stop holding onto so many thoughts. Take a few minutes and write down everything you think you need to do and turn it into a todo list. Be thorough, and don’t forget the small items and things you’ve been putting off.
6. Know your Body Your circadian rhythms will determine your best time to work. For me, morning and late at night are my favorite times to write. I have a couple energy slumps during the day when my mind shuts down. Fortunately I’m at work during this time.
7. Take Breaks Everyone has a different threshold for how long their focus lasts. This time also varies from task to task. If I’m recording songs or killing zombies, I’m good for hours, but when I’m using my logical brain I need to stop every 45 minutes or so.
8. Go For a Walk (or Hike) A short walk around the block, or a longer walk in the woods, gets the blood moving and the brain focused. Take some deep breaths and let your body get into the rhythm of the walk. Goethe swore by evenings walks. You should too.
9. Learn about Flow In short, Flow is a state of attention and engagement where you’re totally wrapped up in your task. When you enter the flow state, you increase your focus by a factor of ten. As skill level and difficulty increase, the likelihood of reaching flow increases.
10. Do a Repetitive Physical Task Repetitive physical activity like scales for musicians, knitting, whittling, or throwing darts demand focus and can help shut down the internal monologue.
11. Study Music Learning piano is a great way to develop concentration, focus, and patience. Using both hands, playing progressively more difficult pieces, learning the language of music, all these will teach you soft skills that allow you to focus longer.
12. Get Plenty of Rest A decent night’s sleep can mean the difference between being a javelin or a jellyfish. If you’re flagging in the middle of the day, a short nap will rest and refresh you.
13. De-stress and Relax Too much work isn’t good for anybody. If you can’t focus, maybe you’re overworked, tired, run down. Besides leading to distraction, too much stress can cause health problems.
14. Shift Gears If you find yourself staring at your project and drooling, maybe you need to work on something else. Joyce Carol Oates, an insanely creative and productive novelist, says never has less than two projects to work on at any given time. When she gets stuck on one, she switches to another one.
15. Have Your Own Space and Set Boundaries If you can’t have a separate workspace/studio where you putter around undisturbed, set boundaries with the people in your life. Tell them that the sooner you finish your task, the sooner you can spend time with them.
16. Begin with the end in mind If you can visualize your outcome, your brain will fill in the steps between where you’re at and where you need to go; if you know where you’re going, you’ll figure out how to get there, avoiding distraction due to uncertainty. Visualizing the end is like knowing your destination on a long trip.
Over to you.
What tricks do you use to increase focus levels and manage your attention? What do you do to get back on track when you’re drowning in distraction?
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